Essential ways to stay sane whilst working from home

Staying sane when homeworking

At the time of writing, we’re a few weeks into the lockdown measures introduced as a response to the coronavirus pandemic.  This has been specifically written to support people working from home – perhaps for the first time – giving essential ways to stay sane.

Staying sane when homeworking

A survey of new homeworkers completed during the first 3 weeks on the lockdown measures by the Institute of Employment Studies shows interesting findings:

  • Half of the people polled were not happy with their current work-life balance saying they’re putting in longer and more irregular hours than they would be working under normal circumstances.
  • A third said they’re feeling isolated
  • Two-thirds reported sleep problems mostly due to work, financial and health worries.

Additionally:

  • 20% owned up to increased alcohol consumption
  • A third reported eating less healthier
  • 60% admitted exercising less since the lockdown started.

Clearly there is going to be an impact on our physical and mental health of being in lockdown and with a reasonable sample size this poll is likely to be fairly reflective of what’s going on across the UK at this time.We all have control and influence over how we manage ourselves during this time whilst working from home – especially the ability to influence our own mental health.

Life, in lockdown, should not be consisting of only work and sleep.  Work should only be making up a portion of your life in lockdown.  You need all the other ingredients in your life to make your work productive and effective, including time for good nutrition, exercise, self-care, relaxation and connecting with others.

We call this smart working.

Before going through our essential ways to stay sane whilst working from home in more detail, its important to consider our collective different experiences of working from home during lockdown – these will be strongly influenced by who we are with and responsibilities that we have.  

Here’s four generalised, but common, lockdown situations to consider:

  • At home by yourself
  • At home as part of a family grouping, perhaps with children and no additional childcare
  • At home alone with a child or other dependents – perhaps you’re a single parent or your partner is an essential worker on the front-line
  • At home with a partner or other adults in a house-share situation.

Which scenario do you most closely associate with?

The physical resources we have available to us at home will also give us very different experiences – from being in a city bedsit or studio apartment with no outdoor space … to being in a spacious house with a garden in the countryside – and all the variations between.

If you’re a line manager, it’s really important to recognise how home working will be impacting on your team differently to how you’re experiencing it given their home scenarios and personality.

Here’s our 4 essential ways to keep sane whilst working from home:

  1. 1. Be prepared

The first way to keep sane whilst working from home is to be prepared.

WORKSPACE

Where possible we recommend having a dedicated workspace in your home, to either shut away or put away at the end of your working day.

In the report mentioned earlier, over half the respondents were experiencing aches and pains associated with bad posture.  Make sure that your workspace is set up as ergonomically as possible.  Dining tables are likely to be taller than a standard office desk, so use pillows or cushions to help you sit at the right height.  Spending too long on a laptop without a bigger screen or separate mouse can aggravate back, neck and shoulder problems.  Experiment with your seating and surfaces to find a comfortable working space for you. with the resources that you have around you.

Working from your bed or from the sofa may seem appealing but unlikely to help your posture or your productivity – save these as your relaxation spaces.

SLEEPING AND WAKING UP

Sleep experts recommend keeping to your usual sleep and waking times as much as possible. Aim to go to sleep and wake up at roughly the same time on each day of the week to maintain your natural body rhythms. Where possible, stick to your normal working hours each day, turning off and closing away your work at the end of your working time. Follow your typical lunch pattern.

ROUTINES

Psychologists say it’s really useful to follow a daily routine – this may be an adapted routine to you and one that can be adapted to suit your circumstances. Creating daily rituals and having a daily rhythm is important to your mental wellbeing.

Wearing clothes that you’d normally wear to work can help to make you feel in ‘work mode’.

DAILY GOALS

Use the time when you’d normally be commuting to help you prepare for the day ahead, prioritising your wellbeing.

Set yourself up for a successful day at work by setting yourself goals to achieve each day – write them down and give yourself a big tick when they’ve been achieved.  Achievements, however small, can help you feel positive and motivated to do more.

Prioritise key deliverables and be realistic about what can be achieved under the circumstances.  Some people find starting off the day with a task that can be easily achieved is a good motivator, whilst others focus on doing the most challenging thing first whilst they have the energy and motivation to tackle it.  Give both options a try to see what works best for you.

Some people find it useful to replicate normal workspace as much as possible, such as having background noise on a sound system.  Reduce distractions such as turning off the TV, radio or your phone to help you concentrate.

Let’s think about being prepared in some of our different home scenarios:

The family scenario – depending on the work commitments of each partner and the age of the children, work routines may need to be much more flexible to the needs of other members of the family, with partners working in a shift system or as a tag team to get through each day.

The person living by themselves may find it more difficult to stick to a set routine unless they are strongly self-disciplined.

 Homes where there isn’t much space but more than one person trying to work at the same time may have many challenges with creating ideal workspace.  If you’re sharing the same space, set yourselves up to look out at different perspectives as though you are working in a tight office space.

  1. 2. Get Moving

The second essential way to stay sane is focused on movement – challenging when we’re only allowed out onto the streets for one lot of daily exercise a day – but make the most of this opportunity.

TAKE BREAKS & STRETCH

During work time, take regular breaks – especially away from your screen, as well as taking regular opportunities to stretch supported by long, deep breathes. (If you’re not remembering to do this, set yourself hourly reminders – your body will thank you for it.)

ACTIVE MINDSET

Even if you’re not a natural born athlete or gym lover, adopt the mindset of an active person to help you to get moving. Think of a friend who always seems to be full of energy and vitality – how do they motivate themselves to move so much?  Perhaps wearing trainers and fitness gear if that will help you to move more than usual.

Think about all the different types of exercise you could do around your working day in the home – dancing, HIIT, weights, yoga, pilates, stairs climbing – whatever you enjoy there’s bound to be online resources to help you – if you’re living with others, get them involved or if you’re alone, join in with others online.  Perhaps do 10 squats each time you wait for the kettle to boil.

Create reminders around your home or alerts on your phone. Set daily or weekly challenges either for yourself or with others.

OUT OF HOME EXERCISE

Out of home exercise is fairly limited to walking, running and cycling at the moment – make the most of the quieter roads to enjoy getting fresh air into your lungs.

If you have children, get them involved in your exercise regime, making it fun and engaging for them. If you live in a busy, noisy household perhaps use your ‘out of home’ exercise opportunity to get some quiet, alone time. If you live alone, use your ‘out of home’ exercise time to see life in your neighbourhood whilst keeping a physical distance.

  1. 3. Be connected

The third way of staying sane is the importance of being connected with others.

TEAM CONTACT

When everyone is working remotely it’s recommended that there are more frequent check-ins than you would normally have in an office environment. Be in contact with your colleagues and manager on a daily basis.

GET SOCIAL

Take the opportunity to be social with your work colleagues, replicating some of the social side of working together in the office. Organise virtual coffee mornings/afternoons sessions at a team or department level.  Or if you’re struggling to work alone, why not group together with others over Teams to do active working sessions – even if you’re working on independent things – a productive power hour together!

Make the best use of video conferencing facilities – it can be really helpful to see colleagues faces – or if these are getting too much and you need a break from video, revert to speaking by phone or texting.

SHARE YOUR WORLD

In terms of being social, share your world with your colleagues to the extent that you feel comfortable – let them virtually meet your pets or children.  Of course, some of us are naturally more reserved or shy, but at times like this it’s important to get to know one another more so that you can support one another and understand and appreciate the different home and family circumstances that we each have. Take time to listen to one another and appreciate each other.

CHECK-INS

It’s important for line managers to check-in with team members on a regular basis.  Checking in with how each team member is doing personally, before covering off work-related activities. Perhaps have regular huddles or a team buddy system going. If you don’t feel that you’re having enough contact with your team, raise this with your manager.

And if your manager is really pushed for time – perhaps they’ve got a heavy workload and / or looking after children as well – what can you suggest would work for the team and get your needs met?

Parents may find it challenging to get involved with all social activities due to the pressure on their time, as well as people with more introverted personalities.  But do ensure they are included, invited and involved. Extroverts, whether living with others or not, are likely to want and need lots of contact with others, over and above normal work responsibilities. Talk about your different needs and preferences for being connected amongst your team members.

  1. 4. Get Support

The final essential way to stay sane is to get support.

ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROBLEM & TAKE ACTION

If something isn’t working for you, something doesn’t feel right or is causing you problems then firstly acknowledge what the problem is and then take action to get it resolved.

We’re in an unprecedented situation at the moment, with everyone doing their best with the resources they have to survive.  Nobody has all the answers.  But if something is not working for you, then do something about it to bring about change.

The action you might take is talking the issue through with your manager, a trusted friend or family member, accessing resources online or via resources available to you by your employer.

Here’s a list of really helpful organisations if you are struggling to get the support you need.

SELF CARE

Continue to support yourself by taking good care of yourself during this time. Self-care – looking after all your needs is vitally important at this time.

Each different home scenarios (including your own unique situation) has its own challenges and pressure points during this time of working from home during lockdown. Taking an empathetic view of your own situation as well as the other scenarios will help teams to support each other better at this time.  Take responsibility for your own wellbeing and expectations about what is possible.  Learn from one another, sharing what’s working well for you.

Work smartly as part of a smart, healthy approach to your lockdown life. 

Sally Dhillon is the co-founder of CM Talent and social enterprise Career-Mums.  She has a wealth of experience in HR and leadership development and combines this experience with being a parent to inspire employers to improve their gender diversity.  CM Talent help employers attract, retain and develop gender-balanced teams with services including family care leave coaching, leadership development programmes and flexible working consultancy. 

 Sally has almost 20 years’ experience of working from home as well as helping teams set up to operate remotely.